Learning How to Lobby – Jennifer Warner
You are one of 319,247,005 American citizens. That number grows by, on average, one person every 13 seconds. With such a large pool of people, it’s hard to believe that anything you do or say will affect the laws that govern us all. It seems unlikely that any legislator would listen to you and it is intimidating to consider asking them to. As daunting as it might seem, I have seen first-hand that the American political system is designed for each of us to be able to access and influence elected officials, if we take the right steps
Anything a person does to try to influence the actions of legislators is considered lobbying. You may have a negative connotation of this word; in fact, 61% of Americans hold an unfavorable opinion of lobbyists and 81% believe that lobbyists bribe legislators for votes. However, lobbying simply means advocating for policy decisions that you or your organization would like to see. One group I’ve gotten involved with, called SAVE for All, believes budget decisions should protect low-income and vulnerable people. To encourage this, SAVE members visit the staff of Senators and Representatives who sit on funding committees and have an open dialogue about community needs and funding possibilities. These conversations involve both education about the issue and the exchange of personal opinions. This is direct lobbying: a face-to-face exchange of information and opinion.
However, lobbying doesn’t necessarily mean in-person meetings with on Capitol Hill. You can communicate with your Congressperson wherever you are, through letters, email, and phone calls. To find out how to best contact your Senators and Representatives, look up their websites at www.senate.gov and www.house.gov. On their official websites, you can also find the location of their closest district office, which is their office in your local community. When contacting your elected officials, try to pick one or two specific issues that you care about. (For ideas, go to NCH’s “Campaigns” tab!) Research the topic thoroughly and clarify your own stance on the issue. When your write, call, or present to a staff person, be clear and concise with your argument. If you called or sent a letter, ask for a response from the Congressperson, and if you met with a staffer, send a follow up email thanking them for their time.
Your elected officials can only serve your interests if they know what those interests are, so communication is essential. Engaged citizens should tell their local Representatives and Senators what they want, as the primary job of those officials is to represent the interests of their own district or state. Your senators are there to represent each person in your state and your representative works for the 732,203 people in your immediate community. They are your voice among the 319,247,005 in this country—make sure that they are saying things you agree with.